Zen Luxury. Creating a Garden that is Lush. Easy. Peaceful.

Zen Luxury.  Creating a Garden that is Lush.  Easy.  Peaceful.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 21 - the Mature Garden

LUSH garden?

Mission accomplished! This first photo is looking left with part of the middle window box and only a portion of the lower hanging basket. This is a SMALL section of my lush zen garden!

I am humbled every morning when I come onto my balcony to take a photo or two. Or maybe a dozen. I am enchanted with each emerging flower! The oriental lilies begin to open and the fragrance is wonderful.

Each flowering plant seems to thrill with its own beauty. Is this the "top" of the garden? Is the peak of its flowering performance? Only time will tell.

So far, it just takes my breath away. Every single day.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 17 - Garden Needs a Haircut

My balcony garden was in need of an adjustment.

I’m not talking about the normal maintenance issues (which I’ll cover on another post), I’m talking about some major adjustments. Just as the chiropractor realigns the spine, or a hairdresser cuts the hair back into proportion, my plants needed an evaluation and some renewal.

What stays? What goes?

The following full photos clearly show a few bare spots where nemesia has died back and the zinnias are failing. I see too much purple on the right side of the balcony and too much orange on the left.I'm losing height as the lovely gerberas are turning down their displays. Along with uneven trailers, I notice some height “issues” where plants did not grow as expected and my window boxes look unbalanced. Unbalanced? I know, I know! Me talking about “balance” in a garden dedicated to lush abandonment seems like a contradiction. Yet, is it a contradiction?

Over the course of the first 6 weeks of this garden’s progress, certain plants grew well while others failed. Nature does its thing, even right here in my own small garden space.

At what point do I, as the gardener, make some major changes?

Could I achieve the balance and perspective that is pleasing to my eye while still allowing lush wildness, a sense of mystery and the ability to acknowledge horticultural surprise, and do this all in a 5’ X 10’ balcony?

In my artist’s eye, I desire the perspective of any container to grow as high, or slightly higher, than the depth of the container. Accordingly, for my 7” deep window box, I desire that the center plants grow about 8 – 12”. I also strive to encourage trailers to drip down about 2/3 of the container height (see also my How To Plant a Container Garden for details about the well-known Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers).

In order to make these major adjustments and removals (heads will roll, I’m telling you now!), I headed back out to my two favorite nurseries in search for replacement nursery stock. In my mind, I am seeing some tall foliage plants and/or tall orange flowering plants (zinnias perhaps?). Ugh, who knew the quality of the plants would be so poor? The nursery “season” for the sale of small plants (3” pots or 6-pack annuals) is obviously OVER. Already? Focus appeared to be on some very lovely, large hanging baskets that do not suit my mood or my environment. I’m bummed as I continue to shop. What I found were lots of impatiens (NO thank you), oodles of coleus (grabbed the biggest, darkest ones I could find) and the standard zinnias, marigolds and ageratums. Sigh. At the second nursery, I see a small inventory of failing calibrachoa -- my now favorite plant. I am, once again, predictably over-purchased. Therefore, I need to be ruthless and really do a Search and Replace here in my own garden.

What plants no longer bring me joy?

Today’s Haircut Plan:

  1. Eliminate what is not performing and replace with known performer

  2. Adjust the height by adding tall specimens into 3 window boxes

  3. Adjust the trailers both outside, and inside, the railings

  4. Adjust some color dominance

  5. Check the pansies and remove any gone full into seeding

Various Gardener Notes:

Are you cracking up because you cannot believe that a small-space gardener would actually have a workplan for the day? Ah, we do create them and our execution is quite short. I spent 2 hours on the balcony doing this remove, readjust and rebalance festival. A portion of that time included my photography, my video on the outside of the window boxes (see next post) and watering my newly disturbed containers. My total work effort for this balcony garden in 2010 is 6-8 hours for the May creation and the mid-June adjustment. Not bad! My futzing, putzing and consistent pinching/pruning time is not included as I view my doting as the meditation of the garden.

For those of you who are avid gardeners, I know you are cringing when you see I have placed coleus right next to gerbera, croton and calla lily. Don’t they have very different sun requirements? Yes! I’m experimenting here. These railing boxes get 3 hours of direct sunshine, otherwise they only receive bright light or filtered sun.

BTW, the calla lilies no longer bloom, though they are happily growing as foliage plants and ya know what? I think they look darn good.

I found no other suitable tall foliage plants and the zinnia stock was not suitable. I purchased dark coleus for height and contrast of color and if the coleus experiment does not work, I’ll go back to adding in some crotons. Crotons are lovely plants with super colors, they just do not grow for me and the leaves they lost have not been replaced. What I love about the common coleus is that every time you whack off the top of that plant, it simply grows double the amount of leaves. That’s a wonderful thing.

Oh if only I could find the way to double my investment portfolio this easily!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butterfly Arrives June 15

I saw this little guy flitting about the grounds earlier today.

I am gratified to observe that my garden has "passed muster" for a butterfly feeding, if only from two varieties of flowers. This butterfly is a very light yellow with a spot on each wing. After reviewing the regional butterflies at www.discoverlife.org site, it appears this butterfly is one of the Sulfur variety, either the Colias interior or the Colias philodice (aka, the Lively Clouded Sulfur).

Note, of course, that I could be totally wrong about that.

Time to review my Preferred Garden Visitor list for 2010, and see which of my intended visitors have been spotted to date:

1. bumble bee - CHECK
2. ladybug -- CHECK
3. butterfly -- CHECK
4. bird -- CHECK

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14 Bumbilicious Video

I love the convenience of the Flip Video. It may be time to consider using a hi-def model. The two videos herein are provided for your audio and visual enjoyment.

Friends of the Garden

Just did a bit of snipping and dead-heading on my flowers this morning, when along came one of my garden friends.

Well hello there, it's a very loud bumble bee.

Since I think its benign buzzing sound is worthy of being captured, I grabbed my Flip Video and caught some nice video of this bee performing its rounds through my torenia, bacopa and back into the torenia (I have blue and two varieties of a red/violet).

This is a daily morning ritual for this bee. I note that the bee is lingering more and more, perhaps the insect needs to wait for the torenia to be "mature" enough to provide sufficient pollen? Lots of movement from this guy today. And yes, the video reveals this bee is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille. Buzzed right up to the video and just about bumped into me several times. Yes, that is me backing out of his way.

Hmm, is this where we get the word "bumbling"?

As my video caught the bee moving off to another patch of bacopa, I noticed something NEW right there on my unopened calla. First, a word about that calla. That is a healthy plant with a spath unopened for approximately 2 weeks (sigh). I am just going to state that I have callas for lovely foliage plants this year. It appears that more sun would be needed to provide those gorgeous yellow flowers. OK, back to the bugs...

I am thrilled to spot a new visitor -- a ladybug!

Please enjoy the following short video (click on left arrow to play) which includes a bee, a ladybug and the accompanying sounds of local songbirds.

This is how western Long Island, NY, sounds in the early summer. Delightful.

Next month, it will be full of the droning of air-conditioners and then August's sounds will be dominated by cicadas. Ah, but June belongs to the songbirds as they lay their eggs and care for their brood. The dominant song is, I believe, of the very close-by Cardinal (see my early post on the pair).

Hmm, does that word relate to "brooding" as in a deep and prolonged thought? Is it possible that my garden is driving me to improve my vocabulary? Nah.

Here is a second video highlighting the view of my 2 tier planting system. I'm loving the lushness of all this. Again, songbirds.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

Well, alright now. Here we go. Now we are starting to see some interesting blog topics. Birds and bees, huh? Whatever could I be up to with this post? So this morning, there I was, communing with my garden balcony oasis, watching my friendly bee visitors from three types (species? genus?) of bees, when lo and behold! A spider.

I hate spiders. Spiders just creep me out. Ugh! So here comes one really big, shiny, black spider zipping its way along the top of the balcony railing. Moving along its private Spider Highway.

I got my camera ready to catch a snapshot, but you know how sneaky those arachnids can be. Creepy 8-legged miniature beasts that they are. This spider dipped under a railing post and disappeared. That image to the left is not a photo and may appear larger than reality. Yet smaller than my arachnophobia recalls. That balcony spider is probably lying in wait. No doubt biding its time to come out and drop upon me. Causing my person to levitate high into the air on a single expletive (!) This can be dangerous for a woman living on the second floor.

I hate spiders, did I mention that?

Yet this got me to thinking about where this balcony garden started a mere six (6) weeks ago. I had nothing out on my bland 2nd story terrace but 4 chairs, a crooked table, 3 window boxes and some old pottery. I had not sat out on the balcony in years. My garden had not been planted for the past 11 years. It was a desert. Lonely. Lifeless. Once the plants came and the flowers opened, they attracted those bees. I assume bugs begot more bugs. Maybe there is some bug-hotline. Some Insect Web? Hence the spider. Yes, I know I can hear my late father's voice, "spiders are good because they eat other bugs". What bugs? I have seen only a few ants. Gee, maybe Spidey is doing a really good job at maintaining a bug-free environment?

So I thought to myself, "Hmmm, bugs. What eats bugs?" Certainly I would prefer a praying mantis or two out there instead of spiders. Yet, maybe a bird or two coming onto the balcony would be perfect. Birds eat bugs.

I love birds!

Birds sing happy songs. And they eat bugs. Bugs removed from my balcony makes me want to sing. Okay, okay. I have a dreadful, toneless singing voice and perhaps the Universe understands that a happy bird-song is better than... well, me.

As an aside, here is a link to attracting urban birds into an avian oasis that you, or your child, can easily create, courtesy of the fabulous Cornell:


Manifest Your Desires

Okay, I am not making this up. About 5 minutes after this train of thought in which I envision the imminent demise of the aforementioned arachnid, I see this flash of red swoop out and down between our trees on the common grounds. That movement could be nothing less than a showy cardinal.

Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, identifies this as the eastern cardinal, Richmondena cardinalis, of the class Aves, order Passeriformes, and family Fringillidae. I'm amazed that this large bird is a member of the finch family. Finches are typically small birds, yet, that bill on the cardinal certainly bears a strong resemblance to the finches that Darwin studied. Why is it that the nose is always a family trait?

He loops back from a tree and sits upon my crooked table for a moment. Looking regal. What a stunning bird! I attempt to do a stealth walk to grab my camera, but he disappears. Sigh. Another opportunity missed. Gone forever. I will have to write about this on my blog with no photograph. Maybe just a sketch. I assure you that my art work is FAR better than my singing ability, so relax. Just to let you know, that cardinal was nowhere near that spider (aka, Loathsome Invader). I mean, if I'm going to "manifest" my thoughts and desires into a spider-eating-avian-avenger (and a pretty one at that), well then the least this red bird could do is investigate for bugs on the balcony. I continue to hear lots of short, chirpy bird sounds outside. Let's call these sounds "Male and Female Let's Make a Nest" sounds. Sure enough, the female alights on my balcony, under the railing and behind the lily bulbs. Drat. That is not a good photo opportunity. What is she seeking? Gone!

My camera battery is flashing "low" with increasing ferocity. I only have a few more moments. Aha! Here's that elusive female dropping by the edge of my railing once again. She arrives so quietly, I nearly missed her. Sorry for the screen door, remember that I was having a "bugged by bugs" sorta day.

I thought perhaps this avian pair was looking for nesting material, so I tucked some long coco fibers into the trellis for an obvious grab.

Maybe that would attract either bird back onto my balcony again?

Happily that male stopped by one more time. Hello Gorgeous!

Note that my co-op apartment complex DOES spray for bugs. One spraying session has completed this season and will, no doubt, be recurring soon. Luckily for our songbirds, we have an empty field lot nearby that should be full of bugs, and a safe environment here that is empty of predators. There you have it, the Birds and Bees! And it all starts with a Garden. Does not even need to be a Garden Of Eden either. Just a simple place that brings out the best in Bees, Birds, and Humans.

The spiders can live elsewhere, thank you very much.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Close Up Flower Shots June 4

Creating Privacy on Your Balcony

Let's face it, communal living, whether it be in an apartment, condo, or townhouse, tends to leave our outdoor space rather, well, exposed.


Stepping onto my balcony, this is the view of 3 neighboring balconies to my left. I am not a fan of sitting out on my balcony and facing folks sitting out on their own balcony (2nd floor) or patio (1st floor). I mean, what is the protocol here? Do ya wave? No thanks. Let's move away from this look (photo 1).

One of the things I wish to create for my balcony is a way to block the straight line of vision between my space and the patios and balconies of my neighbors. I hope to do this in a way that is effective for me while not causing any clutter to the view of my neighbors.

Or any of those pesky Letters From The Board (and no, I've never received one in the 26 years I've lived here).


As I sit down tonight, my line of sight is blocked (see photo 2) to the 2nd floor patios with that planter box, and blocked from the lower patio by my urn planters. Hooray for me! Note also that this 2nd tier of planting provides some privacy from people walking through the courtyard.

Ah, a life of Mystery may ensue!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bulbs (life in the slow lane)

On May 1, I planted some bulbs purchased at Home Depot. The prices were attractive and some bulbs were in better shape (health quality) than others. My list of bulbs included:

10 Oriental Lilies
3 Elephant Ears (Colocasia Esculenta)
10 Caladium Fancy Leaf Mixed

By May 20, the Oriental Lilies were growing nicely (top photo right). Math not being my strong suit, I cannot help but notice fewer than 10 bulbs are actively growing. As of June 4, I see some viable buds have formed.

The Caladium bulbs broke through the soil in the last few days of May. As of June 4, I see the actual leaves ready to unfold (see 2nd photo on right). I wonder if these will need to be transplanted? Ha, this also makes me wonder if I'll bother taking these bulbs out of the soil and store for the winter (or plant in soil).

So what is going on with those Elephant Ears? I only purchased three of these bulbs and it appears that only one is looking viable (see 3 little shoots springing up a mere five weeks after planting).

Note to Self: No bulbs next year.

I Love the Night Life -- I Love to Boogie

One thing I desired for my balcony was a "evening look". Sort of a "Moonlight at the Oasis" feeling.

Luxurious. Indulgent. Private.

Back at one of my favorite stores, Home Goods, I found a string of indoor/outdoor lights with a pseudo-ceramic white housing. The white ceramic goes with my candle lantern and blends nicely with the white iron railing. I checked for UL safety rating on my purchase. My only disappointment is that I purchased just one string. Too bad. Maybe, just maybe, it would have been effective, or more interesting, with another string.

Step One

I nestle the string of lights in the lower tier planter as the sun begins to set (see photo 1). I like it! I'm sure a string of "christmas" lights or rope lighting would work equally as well -- be sure to use Outdoor rated lights only!

My co-op complex provides lighting along the walkways and on the building entrances. The owner of each unit has the ability to add his or her own source of lighting for evenings outside on the balcony/patio. Some of my neighbors have installed outdoor sconces of varying designs and degrees of brightness. Personally, I just do not care for the look. If I want to read in the dark, I will move indoors and use "real" lights.

For my personal outdoor space? I prefer lighting that is more soothing, subtle and romantic.

Step Two

I add my ceramic lantern (yep, Home Goods)and light up that candle (photo #2).

If you don't have one of these lanterns available, try a round goldfish bowl from your local pet store or a decorative round bowl from Crate & Barrel or similar store. Add a 3" wide, 3" tall pillar candle and about 2 inches of sand to hold the candle. I'd recommend that you not use a candle taller than 3" as the wind may effect the clean burning of the flame (or blow it out).

Additionally, sometimes a high flame causes an uneven burning of the pillar candle wax. For fun, you could add some marbles, sea shells, or other non-flammable decorative items to the bottom of the glass bowl. The sand will hold the candle steady.

Step Three -- Enjoy

As dusk turned into darkness, I loved the look of the lights peeking through the plants. These little lights were showing just on my side and would be nearly invisible to the outside viewer.

Here is a view of my final effect (photo 3). Nice!

Balcony Plantings Filling In by June 3

I am not about to say this balcony garden is "mature". According to my Zone 7 plantings, I should only be a week to 2 weeks into safe plantings.

Accordingly I am simply enjoying the changes that are occurring in my garden.

A View from the Top

Rather enjoyed taking my camera for this view. Towards the right, those blue pansies are hanging a bit out and down. These window boxes are getting full. Still love those colors! I see the night lighting has turned on since this is about 8pm when I took this photo.

The View Outward

The trailers planted in these two boxes are reaching out towards each other and beginning to blend. I'm pretty crazy for that yellow plant by Proven Winners. The white Bacopa (right)is favored by the bees.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rex Begonias Progress June 3

Here's my informal study on my lovely rex begonias. I bought five (5) plants of approximately the same size. The pots were the same size though the number and size of leaves were slightly different.

I've never grown these plants before and I'm finding them to be charming here on the balcony.

How much sun is the right amount of sun for a rex begonia?

Enter ==> Left Brain Thought. I'll just wander about my Zen Luxury Garden and place my Stanley measuring tape. Might be interesting as time goes on for the season.

The top two photos are of the rex begonias that were planted on May 7. They are on my inside railing and receive Direct Sun at approximately 1pm and filtered sun by about 4pm. They appear to be thriving. Evidence of what I call "crispy leaf" was after those 40 degree evenings (brrrr).

The third photo is of a little guy that has been planted since May 7 (alongside an Elephant Ears bulb & pansy)in a glazed clay pot. Never had a moment of full sun, this little planter lives beneath the hanging planters. Looking a bit like a "non-performer". Healthy, yet limited growth. Rex is about 8" against the others' approximate 11" across the widest point.

In photo four, this lovely dark rex was just planted on May 21 into my community "shade planter". These plants get direct sun only after 5 pm. Interesting how quickly the leaves on this rex seem to just stretch out in comfort.

In the bottom photo, this rex got tucked into the planter as a safety precaution. I was leaving town for 3 days and figured the plant would die if left alone in its 3" nursery pot. Yes, I could not find a "home" for this little cutie, so I kept the poor rex in its original plastic planter. Ouch. Though still a bit smaller than the big three, this rex is looking pretty happy here and beginning to spread.